taliban: Anxiety and fear of women in the Taliban stronghold

KANDAHAR: Fauzia, a student from Afghanistan, used to make ends meet and advertise voices on a radio station in the heart of the Taliban in Kandahar, but that came to an abrupt end when the Islamists swept into power in August.
Their routine was clear: no female voices on the air.
Afghanistan’s new governors have promised more modest governance than their last term in power, when almost all women were barred from work and education, and barred from spontaneous leaving the house.
But there is widespread mistrust in their promise of women’s rights. Most women across the country are barred from attending high school, and most women have not been able to return to work.
When AFP visited Kandahar last month, only a few women were visible in the dusty shopping streets of the southern city, hurrying luggage hurriedly from shop to shop while wearing the head-to-toe burqa.
The Taliban “posted messages on Facebook saying they didn’t want to hear more music than female (voices) on the air,” said Fauzia, who asked not to use her real name.
The 20-year-old medical student’s situation has become increasingly precarious after losing her income from radio ads – Fauzia and her four younger siblings are orphans, and she is struggling to put food on the table .
Despite Taliban’s promises for softer rule this time around, women remain depressed and unclear about their place in society, while businesses that once employed them are wary of upsetting Islamists.
The former head of Fauzia said the radio station felt compelled to stop airing ads with women’s voices.
She has been distributing our resumes all over Kandahar, with no luck.
“I’m told to wait,” he said.
Since taking power, Islamists have repeatedly said that they will respect women’s rights in the confines of Islamic law, without elaboration.
Women are, with some exceptions, barred from returning to work or education, and have been told that they must hold off until arrangements have been made, including the separation of men and women.
So far, “we have not banned anything for women”, Mullah Noor Ahmad Saeed, a Taliban official in Kandahar state, told AFP
“If they don’t feel safe or don’t go back to work, it’s their fault.”
But many are skeptical.
“In the streets, people say nothing, but we noticed bad looks from the Taliban,” said Fereshteh Nazari, who has been able to return to work as head of a girls-only primary school.
However, women teachers and girls are exempt from returning to high school.
“Before we used to be happy to come to school. Now we are stressed,” Nazari told AFP at the school.
On the day AFP visited, about 700 students were present, less than a third of the 2,500 women enrolled.
“Most parents don’t send their daughters to school after the age of 10 because they don’t feel safe,” Nazari said.
Zohra, a maths major in her 20s who asked not to use her real name, is among the students who stay away, and rumors of the violent Taliban conflict on the horizon exacerbate her fear.
“For me, life is more important than anything else,” he told AFP by phone.
For many women, the ability to work is vital now more than ever as Afghanistan suffers from a worsening economic crisis.
It has had a serious impact even on the few women who are still allowed to work – Nazari and her teacher colleagues have not received their salaries since the collapse of the Western-backed government in August.
“Before, we had a good life. Now we may have to go begging in the bazaar,” said the headmistress, who is in her 20s.
“My husband is unemployed, and we have to feed our two children.”
The Taliban have promised security and peace to all Afghans, including women.
But for Fauzia, the presence of Islamists alone puts social pressure on women to stay away.
“Other than (for) foods, we don’t go anywhere else,” she said, and even then, women “come back home very quickly”.
“Even my little brother tells me to cover my face, to no longer see friends, and not to go anywhere other than classes,” said Fauzia.
It’s an obvious change for many young women from Afghanistan, who benefited from the previous government’s effort to get girls’ education.
“We want freedom,” said a 12-year-old girl in the Nazari schoolyard.
But he added that with the Taliban now in power, women and women will have to do “whatever they say”.
“If not, we will face problems.”